North Korea’s coal exports dropped to zero in April. According to the U.N. Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee on June 4, no U.N. member country imported coal from North Korea in April. The drop apparently resulted from U.N. Security Council Resolution 2321, which was adopted last November following Pyongyang’s fifth nuclear test. Meanwhile, Japanese newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported on Tuesday that China and Russia continue to support North Korea in trade. According to the report, China’s iron ore imports from North Korea since January increased four-fold year-on-year, while Russia’s first-quarter energy exports to North Korea, including oil, doubled compared to the same period last year. In principle, the resolution bans North Korea’s iron ore trade. But it includes an exception for transactions for livelihood purposes. After the stronger measure aimed at curbing trade of North Korean coal, which is the nation’s main export, it seems the North has increased its iron ore exports as an alternative source of income. With some questioning the effectiveness of the sanctions against Pyongyang, the U.N. Security Council has adopted a new resolution sanctioning more North Korean individuals and entities.
The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a new resolution on June 2 to impose additional sanctions on North Korea, which has fired nine ballistic missiles this year alone. In the resolution, the council expressed deep concerns over North Korea’s continual ballistic missile launches and criticized that such activities contribute to the nation’s development of nuclear weapon delivery systems. The new resolution is apparently aimed at putting more pressure on Pyongyang, which has conducted ballistic missile launches almost once a week as of late. Here’s Professor Lim Eul-chul from the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University.
The U.N. Security Council has placed sanctions on North Korea in response to its long-range missile launches before. But this is the first time that the council has decided to slap sanctions on the North over its short and mid-range missiles. Amid the rising level of North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, the adoption of the new resolution shows that the international community is keenly aware of the need to prevent North Korea from making additional provocations, and that it is determined to place stronger pressure on the communist nation for that purpose.
The latest resolution came six months after the previous one, Resolution 2321, was adopted in November last year. The new resolution blacklists 14 individuals and four entities, including the Strategic Rocket Force of the Korean People’s Army which is in charge of North Korea’s missile development. Accordingly, 53 individuals and 46 organizations are now subject to U.N. sanctions in relation to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. But the new resolution does not include strong sanctions such as the prohibition of supplying oil to North Korea or a ban on sending North Korean workers overseas. For that reason, analysts are saying that the symbolic resolution serves more as a warning than an effective measure. On June 1, one day before the adoption of the resolution, the U.S. announced its own sanctions against North Korea—the second of their kind under the Trump administration. The fresh sanctions blacklist four individuals and 10 groups, including the State Affairs Commission, which is the North’s highest office, the Korean People’s Army, and the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces. Notably, one Russian individual and some Russian companies have also been added to the list.
It marks the first time that the U.S. has included Russian companies in its North Korea-related blacklist. The announcement of Washington’s unilateral sanctions was followed by the U.N. Security Council’s new resolution against North Korea, reflecting that the U.S. is taking the lead in imposing sanctions on the North. The U.S. seems to be urging China and Russia to join the sanctions on Pyongyang and sending them a message that the U.S. may sanction problematic companies doing business with North Korea in the so-called secondary boycott, even though they are based in other countries. I think the U.S. has shown its determination to block North Korea’s missile development, even at the risk of worsening relations with Russia.
The impact of international sanctions is being detected inside North Korea. According to U.S.-based media Radio Free Asia, gas prices in North Korea late last month rose 20 percent, compared to early May. Experts are saying this shows that sanctions are dealing a blow to the nation.
It is possible that China has actually reduced its oil exports to North Korea. Even if that’s not the case, the news that China has joined the international sanctions could deliver a certain message to the market in North Korea. North Korean merchants will react quickly to the news that oil supplies might be reduced. The expectation of reduced oil supplies will inevitably cause a rise in prices. We have to see how North Korea has changed since the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2270 in March last year. Over the past year, prices in North Korea have remained relatively stable, but the market activities haven’t been smooth, compared to the past. Now, with oil prices rising, North Korean merchants conducting business with China and Russia have to take a lot of risks. Moreover, North Korean trade by land, sea, and air is restricted, while crackdowns on illegal trading have intensified. As a result, it seems that economic activities in North Korea are slowing down overall.
On June 4, a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman lashed out at the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council for announcing their sanctions against Pyongyang, calling them “an act of brutal hostility.” In response, the U.S. State Department urged North Korea to stop its provocative actions and rhetoric and to return to dialogue. Many are concerned about how North Korea may act in the future.
North Korea argues that it is necessary to first resolve a fundamental problem, namely, the South Korea-U.S. combined military drills, which Pyongyang believes are posing a great threat to the North. Without solving this problem, North Korea says that it is difficult to talk with the U.S. and South Korea. North Korea also views sanctions as another element that threatens its regime. Therefore, Pyongyang will continue to demand a halt to the South Korea-U.S. military drills and sanctions, while sticking to its nuclear and missile development. But it will also seek dialogue as well, taking both soft-line and tough-line stances.
On June 5, Pyongyang rejected planned North Korea visits by South Korean groups dedicated to humanitarian aid, taking issue with Seoul’s support of U.N. sanctions on the North. The Moon Jae-in government had approved requests by South Korean civic groups to contact North Korea, raising hopes for improved inter-Korean exchanges. But the efforts toward better inter-Korean relations are facing a setback for now.
South Korea is in a really tricky situation. Seoul has focused on sanctions and pressure when it comes to dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue. But I think South Korea needs to pursue another method now. It should use pressure and promote cooperation with the North at the same time, although it sounds like a difficult task. Communication with North Korean citizens is necessary to make North Korean authorities realize that the possession of nuclear weapons will only place a burden on the nation and prove unhelpful for its people. Through new information flowing in to the reclusive nation, North Korean people can learn how the international community perceives the North Korean nuclear issue. Inter-Korean cooperation and exchange could be a very useful channel of delivering the information to the North. It is necessary to come up with a new means of eliciting a meaningful change from North Korea, and I believe the new method could be more strategic cooperation and exchange between the two Koreas.
While international sanctions are expected to deepen North Korea’s economic isolation even further, whether or not a joint inter-Korean summit anniversary event will be held this month is likely to influence future inter-Korean exchanges.
[Interview] First Newspaper Created by N. Korean Defectors in S. Korea
At a newspaper office located in Dongdaemun-gu District, eastern Seoul, a group of workers are in a conference. They are the staff of the Hantong News, the first newspaper created by North Korean defectors in South Korea. The word “Hantong” contains the hope that Korean people will rise as one to bring about unification. Yang Se-jin, who runs the newspaper, is a North Korean defector himself. He resettled in South Korea three years ago. In their initial stage of resettlement, many North Korean newcomers, including Yang, felt that they were alienated from society. He decided to publish a newspaper to bring North Korean expats together and promote communication between them. Let’s hear from Mr. Yang.
After completing a training program at Hanawon, I created a nonprofit organization. While working there, I felt the need to develop a communication channel for North Korean defectors. I thought a newspaper would be ideal. Through the newspaper, I wanted my fellow defectors to do what they wanted to do.
Yang previously had trade experience, and had never done anything related to journalism before. When he decided to found a newspaper, he happened to meet a journalist named Seo Jeong-bae, who is now the co-head of the paper. Mr. Seo talks about his exciting encounter with Yang.
I first met him two years ago. Only five minutes after talking with him, I could feel my heart pounding. When he asked me to join the newspaper, I could vividly feel his passion and determination. To him, it was a matter of life and death. Six months later, I began to work with him. All the reporters here were of the same mind when they first came here. The first, exhilarating encounter with him led to what I do today.
The Hantong News was established in September 2016 with the purpose of helping North Korean newcomers overcome their isolation through communication and harmony. The newspaper is run both online and offline. The online version is published every day, while the print version is issued weekly. The paper covers not only defectors’ success stories but inter-Korean matters and North Korean human rights issues as well. Currently, there are six employees, including reporters who came from North Korea. Honorary journalists and specialists, both from South Korea and overseas, are also now writing for the newspaper. Let’s listen again to Mr. Seo.
At present, 46 people contribute to our publication, while six are dedicated solely to writing articles. Although we organize the format of the newspaper, it is North Korean expats who verify the facts. We have two North Korean reporters. Another person is learning journalism here as a would-be reporter. We also have correspondents overseas, such as China and Germany. Thanks to their help, we are able to run this newspaper.
It’s been less than a year since the launch of the newspaper, but it has drawn a positive response from readers, with many from North Korea sending thank you messages. Stories of North Korean defectors are published serially in a special corner, developing a bond of sympathy and enhancing communication among readers. The corner has become so popular that the newspaper is even considering publishing them as an independent publication. Here’s North Korean defector and reporter Kim Young-ae.
In one of the most impressive stories I remember, a diligent North Korean defector who had initially worked as an instructor at a private computer institute was later promoted to become the head of the organization. They earned a master’s degree and went on to gain a doctorate. The defector was able to overcome difficulties and succeed in studies, even guiding other defectors down the same path. It was great to cover the story of the devoted North Korean defector.
The Hantong News will strengthen its educational focus to provide North Korean newcomers with skills and information essential for life in the South. It will also connect local police stations with branches of the Hana Center, a support center for North Korean defectors, all across the nation so it can distribute printed copies of the newspaper to many more North Korean expats. Again, Mr. Yang and Mr. Seo talk about their hopes and dreams.
I find that some teenage North Korean defectors lack self-confidence, and are extremely reluctant to be themselves. I hope they will become more confident and feel proud of being South Korean citizens. I know many of them feel pressured as defectors from North Korea. I do hope they will free themselves of such pressures. I believe North Korean newcomers are capable enough to serve as missionaries or guides who will pave the way for unification. I hope they will regain their confidence and realize their dreams through this newspaper.
Most importantly, the newcomers should live decent lives here and interact well with South Koreans. Thirty-thousand North Korean defectors have resettled in South Korea. Before Korea is unified, they should hopefully fully adjust to South Korean society. People from South and North Korea should get to know each other better and expand mutual understanding so they can alleviate cultural conflict. With this purpose in mind, we’ll continue to publish the newspaper.
We’re looking forward to reading breaking news about Korea’s unification on the Hantong News.